common humanity / by Maranie Staab

i sat down this evening on a bench overlooking the mediterranean sea. i was feeling a bit off — it certainly hadn’t been a bad day, but the feeling that sometimes creeps up when traveling alone was in full force today. i was stuck in my own head and had brought a book to the ocean in an attempt to clear my mind and convince myself to embrace the uncertainty of my next month abroad.
enter ali: ali had just arrived from baghdad; he had brought his sick uncle to beirut for medical attention. a student of fine art, currently pursuing his doctoral degree in iraq, he had brought his drawing pad and pencil to the sea for similar reasons. he had left his uncle in the hospital and alone in a foreign city was seeking human connection. 
ali sat down on the bench next to me and after several moments asked to draw me. i, somewhat uncharacteristically , agreed. what ensued was me sitting for over an hour as this man, this stranger who became a friend within that hour, drew me. his english was good enough (certainly better than my arabic) and we got to know one another as best as two people from different countries, cultures and languages can (it never ceases to amaze me how much can be communicated without speaking). once finished ali handed the portrait to me. as has been consistently the case in lebanon (as it was in jordan and iraq this spring) when i attempted to express my gratitude with payment he refused. i was told that it was his honor to share his art with me.
i have been and continue to be humbled by the warmth and generosity (of time, spirit, money) of the arab culture. i dot know if i will ever see ali again but i do know that this chance encounter was the highlight of my day and will be added to cache of experiences here that are informing who i am and who i want to be.